Sharon Palmer, RD
Today there’s a lot of buzz on "superfruits" – from acai to mangosteen to baobob. The superfruits that have gained the lion's share of the public's attention hark from distant, exotic locations, further adding to their glamour and appeal. In most cases, scientists haven't discovered evidence to back many of the enthusiastic health claims, ranging from weight loss to cancer prevention, made by a variety of websites on exotic superfruits. While these fruits – like all fruits found in nature – are likely rich in antioxidants, phytochemicals, fiber, vitamins and minerals that are healthy additions to your diet, you don't have to search far and wide to find foods that offer exceptional health benefits. Many superfoods are hiding in supermarket shelves – and even your own pantry – and they can add powerful benefits to your diet and overall health.
Go ahead; encourage your customers to stock their pantries with foods on my list of seven simple, economical superfoods. They can reach for these foods on any day of the week to add health benefits to their diets.
Top Seven Pantry Superfoods
1. Oats. What's so special about an ordinary bowl of oats? Each serving of this whole grain is filled with protein, minerals, vitamins, and a type of soluble fiber called beta-glucans, which has been linked with cholesterol-lowering benefits. Just eating one bowl of oats every day can lower your cholesterol by up to 23%. Cook up oats for breakfast more often, stir them into meatloaf as a binding agent, and mix oats into cookies, breads and granolas.
2. Onions. Vegetables don't have to be colorful to be packed with health-protective nutrients. The simple, white onion is packed with fiber, minerals, vitamins C and B6, and powerful polyphenol and sulfur-containing compounds that have been linked with cancer protection and heart health. Go ahead; chop these pungent bulbs into your favorite dishes, such as soups, stews, pasta sauces, meatloaf, and casseroles.
3. Beans. This humble staple is as close to a "perfect food" as you can find; beans are rich in protein, minerals, vitamins, and fiber. No wonder they have been linked with health benefits like lowering blood cholesterol, body weight, and blood pressure. That's why health experts recommend that you dish up three cups of dried beans (or dried lentils or peas) every week. Cook up a batch of dried beans for a simple dinner with cornbread and greens, or toss canned beans into salads, soups, casseroles and side dishes.
4. Garlic. Every cook understands the power of garlic to lend its fragrant kick to a variety of dishes. But within every clove of garlic you’ll find a punch of health-protective nutrients, including manganese, vitamins C and B6, and phytochemicals like allicin, saponin and coumaric acid. These compounds are behind garlic's antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that may contribute to heart health.
5. Cayenne Pepper. The spice drawer in your kitchen may hold surprising nutritional power. Studies have shown that even small amounts of spices can possess potent antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-microbial action. Cayenne pepper is one of the most promising spices for health; the heat in this spice is a calling card for capsaicin, a compound that boasts anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory effects. Use a dash of this colorful spice in your favorite dishes, from eggs and potatoes to meat and side dishes.
6. Celery. This simple, crunchy stalk has been long undervalued for its nutrient cache. Yet its nutritional contributions of vitamins K and C, folate, potassium and fiber are nothing to sneeze at. And celery contains phytochemicals such as phthalides linked with lowering cholesterol and coumarins that show anti-cancer activity. Celery is one of the easiest vegetables to mix into dishes, as it adds a mild, crunchiness that blends well with many flavors. Slice celery into stir-fries, salads, tuna sandwiches, wraps, side dishes and soups.
7. Canned Tomatoes. A simple can of tomatoes in the back of your pantry should be your go-to ingredient for health, especially considering its rich load of vitamin C, potassium, iron, fiber and carotenoids such as lycopene. The powerful antioxidant lycopene is even more bioavailable in canned tomatoes compared with fresh because of heat-processing. That's why tomatoes have been linked with prostate cancer prevention, heart health, bone health and sun protection. Open a can and stir them into casseroles, pasta dishes, stews, side-dishes, and Mexican foods for simple, delicious comfort food.
Sharon Palmer, RD, is a dietitian, food and nutrition writer, and author of an upcoming book (spring 2012) on plant-based diets. Visit her website at www.sharonpalmer.com.
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